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Should I take my kids to the new Navy Pier Centennial Wheel?

With family in town--again--we chose to go "up" once more. My daughter has been asking to go on the new Ferris wheel at Navy Pier since it opened at the beginning of the summer. In the past, we've been to the pier for another reason...boat ride, Children's Museum...so that spending more money on rides isn't in the budget for the day. Especially true since they also tend to beg for lunch when we visit. This time, the wheel would be the primary reason for the visit.

My son doesn't enjoy rides (should make Disney World interesting, eh?) so my daughter actually got to go twice. Once with me. Once with grandpa after her brother waited with grandpa the first round. Side note: my son actually became ill on the train to downtown. So his day was miserable. I noticed he wasn't saying much on the L like he usually does but he wouldn't tell me what was wrong. I thought maybe he was just scared we'd make him ride the Ferris wheel or it wasn't what he wanted to do for the day so he was grumpy. He was patient and waiting in the 90 degree heat for lunch ok but then didn't eat his french fries so I knew something was wrong. He nearly passed out on the train home and then slept for 15 hours. Better today.

The new cars for the Centennial Wheel can be seen below. They're completely enclosed, air-conditioned, and have sound/video. The seats can best be described as "individual" though they are grouped together as two "benches" facing each other. (About 8 people per vehicle.)

Lines to get tickets weren't bad though keep in mind this was before lunch on a summer weekday. The entrance is on the east side of the wheel (towards the lake) with a photo opportunity at the ticket taker. It's just a green screen to pose in front of and I didn't even look to see how much the printed photos at the exit cost. I'm not a huge fan of invasive photos where they stop to take your picture. Ones where they happen to take your photo inside without you noticing are slightly better. Not everybody wants a tacky commemoration of a visit somewhere.

The line to get on the wheel itself was modest. It moved quickly but the entire area (I mean entire) around the Pier Park with the rides is unshaded and in direct sun for the heat of the day. It's a major drawback for waiting, watching, enjoying. But it's new so maybe they'll get around to planting something or installing something? The wheel clearly has a decent capacity when fully operational. Yesterday, they weren't loading from every station and only using the two bottom ride vehicles so nobody had to climb stairs. The doors on the far side open to let passengers exit before the doors on the loading side open so it's pretty efficient. Once the wheel is loaded, you do a couple of rotations before it starts to unload. Aside from the shade issue, there are a few nice rock-type benches/planters for your party to wait for you.




In terms of "value," I'd rate the new Ferris wheel reasonably high. It's $15 per person with a discount for children to $12. The rates go up from there to skip lines or get a VIP experience. I'd feel different about things if we'd had to wait for awhile. And I'm putting the Centennial Wheel above the Skydeck at Willis Tower for that reason. The $22 ticket to go to the observation deck would be more reasonable if the line weren't outrageous and the management of the experience so poor. So my higher ranking for the Centennial Wheel may strictly be about the efficiency factor. The views are maybe slightly better at Willis Tower, but certainly not "bad" at the Ferris wheel.

We also did the carousel. At $5 per person this looks downright affordable by comparison and we've actually been on it before. A quick note that I've now run into twice with the carousel tickets though...they're not super upfront about who needs tickets, who can ride alone, etc.. If your child is under 42" here, they DO NOT need a ticket and you will be expected to stand next to their horse during. So the ticket is really for you to hold them steady. We bought 4 tickets but the ticket taker was kind enough to inform us that we didn't need one and could get a refund for the extra child. There are signs explaining height requirements at the ticket window but it's not explained well so I'm sure the ticket sellers get questions all day. If your child is short, they can still ride and the "must be 42 inches" can be off-putting when you've already assumed your 2-4 year old is capable of holding on to a wooden horse. Don't end up with either a crying child who thinks they can't go or buying too many tickets.

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